While the performers wow the crowds with their brilliant displays and stunts, the success of the annual Chingay Parade rides heavily on the hard work of innumerable heroes backstage. Three such people are Mr Henry Han, Mr John Lim and Mr Robert Tia.
Mr Han, amongst the pioneers of Chingay Parade and his able assistant, Mr Lim, who joined him in 1980, are responsible for synchronising the music to the various performances in the Chingay Parade.
The duo is responsible for compiling the master tape to be played during the Parade. To do that, they would have to put together the music for the different performances according to the programme schedule and the needs of each individual dance choreographer. Together, they would fine-tune the compilation until each piece flowed seamlessly with the performance.
Over the 40-year history of the Chingay Parades, Mr Han has seen four stages in the development and evolution of the sound system. At first they used the open wheel, followed by the cassette, the CD and finally, in 2010, the digital system made its appearance.
While there is always a schedule indicating the music to be played for each segment of the Parade, he has attended numerous rehearsals to get the synchronisation right because there is simply no room for error on the actual day.
Recalling past performances, Mr Han smiles and says. "The Parade was aired live on television, hence there was pressure. I had to ensure that I pushed the correct buttons at the right time. I also had to make sure I had the right soundtrack. Otherwise, can you imagine hearing Chinese music during an Indian dance? In the past, there were live bands during the Chingay Parade. I had to turn off the music whenever the live bands came on."
When asked about the most unforgettable performance, Mr Lim recalled a particular Parade in the 1990s. It began raining heavily just as the Parade was about to start at 6pm. Despite the downpour, the audio-visual team remained calm and covered their equipment with protective tarpaulin. At around 7.30pm, the decision was made to go ahead with the Parade, but one or two of the scheduled dances had to be cancelled. This meant that the music for the cancelled performances had to be edited out on the spot.
"Under such circumstances, it is very important to be able to think on your feet," Mr Han says with the wisdom gained from experience. With the pullouts, some performances had to be prolonged. This meant an extension of some of the original sound track. Mr Han's solution – just press replay!
Few people, caught up in the excitement of the Chingay Parade, would notice the radio silence observed by the audio-visual crew. This silence is critical. Mr Han needs to concentrate in order to see the "Go" signals that the artistic director gives, or to hear the emcee's cue for the music. With the cooperation of his fellow teammates, Mr Han, in all his 39 years at the job, has not made a single wrong push of the button.
Mr Tia, 64, currently a prop maker with SCENE who has been with PA for the past 31 years, has designed and created props such as spider webs, torches, sedans and a small drum with a big drum exterior.
"Whether it is wooden props, metal props or digital props, I've made them all. I’ve produced many strange things!" He says. Amongst all his props, a few quirky ones stand out like, rabbit ears, headpieces that can be lit and even wooden guns and stone stools.
"When making props, I have to consider their durability, practicality and stability. I also try to recycle materials whenever possible." Mr Tia has been with the Props Unit for 10 years. Prior to that, he was with the audio-visual unit.
Mr Tia discloses that his skills were all gleaned through experience. Often, he observes how other people made the props, and sees if he could learn from them to improve his skills. Among his masterpieces are the 28 red lamps featured in the finale of Chingay 2011. "I improvised them from lampshades that I bought, but instead of emitting white light, I made them emit red light."
There are hundreds of people like Mr Han, Mr Lim and Mr Tia, who work quietly behind the scenes to make the Chingay Parade a success. Without these silent heroes, Chingay would not be what it is today.
Adapted from: Tales of Chingay – Celebrating 40 Years of Chingay Written by: Goh Ting Cheng Translated by: Ling Yun